• Profile picture of Joel Pearson.
  • Assistant professor

    Max Rady College of Medicine
    Pharmacology and Therapeutics
    Room ON5020 - 675 McDermot Avenue
    University of Manitoba
    Winnipeg, Manitoba R3E 0V9

    Phone: 204-787-2115  

Cross appointments

Holds cross appointments with:

  • Scientist, CancerCare Manitoba Research Institute

Research themes

  • Molecular basis of cancer
  • Overcoming the complexity of cancer
  • Cancer heterogeneity and plasticity
  • Identifying novel cancer therapies

Research interests

  • Brain cancers
  • Cancer genomics
  • Cancer therapeutics
  • Drug resistance
  • Functional genomics
  • Lung cancer
  • Neural and neuroendocrine cancers
  • Prostate cancer


  • Cancer plasticity
  • Neuroendocrine cancer
  • Small cell lung cancer
  • Yap

Research affiliations

  • Scientist, CancerCare Manitoba Research Institute

Research summary

Cancer is a complex disease, and this complexity hinders successful diagnosis and treatment. A critical aspect of improving patient outcome is to find ways to overcome this. Identifying overarching principles of cancer biology that span tumor type will allow us to overcome cancer complexity and develop broadly relevant therapeutics. For example, we found that cancers can be simplified into just two types (termed "YAPon" or "YAPoff") based on distinct activities of a single transcriptional complex. Our goal is to understand the molecular basis of these fundamental "rules" of cancer and how we can exploit them to pinpoint better cancer treatments.


Dr. Joel Pearson is an assistant professor in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics and a scientist at CancerCare Manitoba Research Institute.

Dr. Pearson is from Haida Gwaii, a secluded set of islands off the northwest coast of British Columbia. After graduating high school, he quickly escaped this seclusion by fashioning a small boat and paddled his way to Kamloops, BC, where he completed a BSc in chemical biology at Thompson Rivers University.

Dr. Pearson then spent a year and a half in industry as an LC-MS/MS instrument operator at an environmental testing lab before pursuing graduate work at the University of Alberta. There, his PhD focused on understanding the molecular basis of the pediatric lymphoma, ALK+ Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma.

This work sparked Dr. Pearson’s passion for cancer research, and he became fascinated by the idea that most oncogenic events are highly context specific and only transform certain cell types.

This interest led him to pursue postdoctoral work at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, ON.

The goal of his postdoctoral work was to understand how cellular context influences transformation and genesis of aggressive neuroendocrine cancers, such as small cell lung cancer and drug-resistant neuroendocrine prostate cancer.

He not only uncovered a key feature influencing this, but also a fundamental aspect of cancer biology that pivots on contrasting activities of a single transcriptional complex.

The transcriptional coactivators, YAP and TAZ, are oncogenes in many solid cancers, but Dr. Pearson discovered that they are instead tumor suppressors in many neural, neuroendocrine and hematological cancers.

He extended these surprising results, demonstrating that cancers can be functionally stratified into binary classes – either “YAPon” or “YAPoff” – based on distinct expression and functions of YAP/TAZ.

Importantly, these classes exhibit distinct therapeutic vulnerabilities and lineage plasticity allows cancers to switch classes to drive drug resistance.

Dr. Pearson was recruited to CancerCare Manitoba and the University of Manitoba in the fall of 2022 where his research program will focus on understanding how to expolit fundamental aspects of cancer biology to develop better cancer therapeutics, particularly for aggressive neural and neuroendocrine cancers.


  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Toronto (2013 - 2022)
  • PhD (Immunology), University of Alberta (2013)
  • BSc (Chemical biology), Thompson Rivers University (2005)


  • CIHR Postdoctoral Fellowship (2015 – 2018)
  • Alberta Cancer Foundation Graduate Studentship (2011 - 2013)
  • NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship-D (2009 - 2011)
  • Michael Smith Foundation for Medical Research Junior Graduate Studentship (2008)
  • NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship-M (2007 – 2008)

Contact us

Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Max Rady College of Medicine
A205 Chown Bldg., 753 McDermot Avenue
University of Manitoba (Bannatyne campus)
Winnipeg, MB R3E 0T6 Canada